Politicians debate about who is “responsible” for the state of the economy and all the jobs the United States has lost since the recession began in 2008, but as Downeast, a documentary by directors David Redmon and Ashley Sabin (Girl Model), shows, it might come down to bureaucracy.
Gouldsboro, a fishing town in northern Maine, was the home of the last remaining sardine cannery in the U.S. After it closed and put the town’s aging population out of work, an Italian entrepreneur named Antonio Bussone attempts to open a lobster meat processing plant which would stop the lobsters harvested by local fishermen from being sent to Canada. However, the town government and bank prove to be obstacles to Antonino, preventing him from putting Gouldsboro back to work.
If you want to understand why it has been four years without much measurable improvement in the economy, you need to understand Gouldsboro. Antonino is presented as a likable, intelligent, and driven businessman who is willing to make great sacrifices to ensure job growth in Gouldsboro. The town government dismisses him for reasons not entirely clear (but surely rooted in their stubborn attitudes) despite the overwhelming support of the community. Antonino is accused of trying to “run off” with the town’s $200,000 federal relief grant even though he humorously points out that he’s investing nearly two million dollars in the plant. It’s incredibly frustrating to see a man who is truly committed to bringing business to the dying region being rebuffed.
However, the true stars of the documentary are the elderly workers — many in their seventies — who lost their jobs when the cannery closed but have too much pride to remain unemployed. An employment meeting is entirely attended by those with gray hair and wrinkles, and they celebrate the opening of a factory that would require them to work long, repetitive hours. One mentions that she didn’t take a day off for her first thirteen years on her job — “our jobs came first,” she says. Not to sound old myself, but it recalls a work ethic that young Americans don’t have these days. More than anything else, this documentary celebrates the work ethic of generations gone by.
There is little that this documentary offers for people who aren’t interested in the economic woes of dying industrial towns, since that is its entire focus, and this subject is perhaps a better fit for a news magazine segment than a seventy-six minute film. Nevertheless, the doc ends unresolved — like the U.S. economy — and it’s unfortunate that so much is left “to be continued.” But perhaps that is the point — as the U.S.’s economic woes go on and the future of small business in this country remains a question mark, so does some of the most common causes of those problems.
Rating: Some valid points about owning a business today in the U.S., but ultimately not for general audiences (7/10)
Tribeca Film Festival Screening Times
Saturday, April 21 1:00PM AMC Loews Village 7 – 2
Tuesday, April 24 7:30PM Clearview Cinemas Chelsea 9
Saturday, April 28 9:45PM Clearview Cinemas Chelsea 8